Those that have heard me speak, know that I am fully invested in creating opportunities for minority business enterprises (MBEs) to grow and scale their businesses. It is why I accepted the role of CEO and president of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC). However, perhaps less well-known, is that I am also a business owner myself and understand the plight of entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs of color.
After spending over two decades in the tech industry, I ventured into real estate and tech startup investment. I invested in a boutique hotel in downtown Austin, Texas that opened for business in the early months of 2020. Unfortunately, two weeks after it opened, the Covid-19 pandemic came to the United States, shutting everything down. Given the circumstances, I could have gotten discouraged and given up on this venture due to the extremely unfavorable situation I found myself in.
Instead, after a somewhat unconventional start to my journey, I pivoted to a new concept for the space, the Founders House, a co-living pop-up that provides flexible accommodations for entrepreneurs and startups. While a lot can be said about that choice and the resulting transition, I want to share four key takeaways from the experience that I think can benefit any entrepreneur faced with a crisis:
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1. If you want to succeed, you will not have time to feel sorry for yourself
The timing of my hotel opening was not ideal. While the Covid-19 pandemic was completely out of my control, it did not make it any less devastating to the plans for the business. However, rather than let the circumstances overwhelm me, I decided to put my focus on helping others affected by the pandemic. How could I use this space to help my community?
We used the hotel as a base of operations for working with members of the local AAPI community to fundraise for and source much-needed PPE like N95 masks for local community clinics, which we then stored at the hotel. Obviously, this was not what I had planned when we opened, but pivoting to a community-focused solution was the key to the business’s future success — something that would not have been possible had I not made it a point to stay focused and keep moving forward.
2. When faced with a crisis, get creative and focus on opportunities
I am not going to lie, there were times during the early days of the pandemic when I didn’t think our business was going to make it. However, rather than focus on those negative thoughts, I instead focused on what opportunities existed for my business. It was at this time that a friend and mentee approached me, as her startup needed space to get ATX KIT off the ground during the pandemic. This opportunity led to an even greater opportunity and creative solution to the problem my hotel was facing. Not only was this a chance to help entrepreneurs of color during the pandemic by providing affordable co-living solutions, but it also brought in the necessary cash flow needed to save the hotel. When faced with a crisis, it is important to look at things from new and fresh perspectives … even if they don’t present themselves at first glance.
Related: How to Prepare for an Unexpected, Unwanted and Unwelcome Business Setback
3. Do not forget about your physical and mental well-being
While I worked very hard, first to help the Austin community source scarce PPE, and second to get the Founders House concept off the ground while leading the global business for Technology Integration Group, I also made sure to take the time to take care of myself. For example, I love going to the gym. Obviously, I couldn’t do that during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially during its earlier stages. However, as with my business, this was an opportunity to get creative. I self-taught cross-training classes, did daily yoga video exercises and jogged around the town lake of Austin. I also embarked on several culinary adventures at home to ensure I was maintaining my nutritional and mental health. While it’s important to focus on your business, don’t lose sight of the self-care needed to thrive.
4. Remember your community in times of crisis
An overarching theme of the experience that eventually led to the Founders House is a focus on one’s community. Whether that was helping Austin’s AAPI community or finding a way to support entrepreneurs of color like myself, everything I did during the pandemic was grounded in my community. When your business faces challenges, remember the community you came from and the one you are trying to serve. Like with most things in life, a strong community is key to resilience.
As these lessons illustrate and as so many entrepreneurs, especially entrepreneurs of color, know, starting a business is not easy in the best of times. Throw in an unexpected crisis, and it might seem all but impossible. However, the above lessons provide a path forward to not only survive in the face of those crises but thrive.
Related: 4 Ways to Make Sure Your Business Survives the Unexpected
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